One Month in Jail: The Sentence in the Ravi Case

The judge handed down the sentence in the Dahrun Ravi case today.  For his conviction on witness- and evidence-tampering and lying to the police, Ravi will serve 30 days in jail.  For the hate crimes charge and sentence enhancement, Ravi was sentenced to three years’ probation, 300 hours of community service, counseling on cyber bullying and alternative lifestyles, and payment of $11,000 to a group that helps victims of bias crimes.  The judge included a recommendation to immigration authorities that the defendant, an Indian citizen who came to the United States as a child, not be deported.  The judge made fairly clear his thinking.  Before announcing the sentence, the judge said that he did not believe that the defendant hated Tyler Clementi but rather that he “acted out of colossal insensitivity.”  To the defendant, the judge said: “You lied to your roommate who placed his trust in you without any conditions, and you violated it.  I haven’t heard you apologize once.”  He emphasized the defendant’s attempt to “corrupt the justice system” by tampering with evidence and witnesses.  The judge explained that he took factors including Ravi’s youth and his lack of a criminal record into consideration.

Before the sentencing, many (including me) worried about a sentence that straddled the extremes.  An unduly harsh sentence might produce a backlash against using hate crime laws in instances of bigoted online harassment (including threats, privacy invasions, etc.) while an unduly light sentence would trivialize what happened to the victim, the public shaming of his sexuality and bias intimidation.  We have fallen into the latter zone.  The defendant received a sentence of probation and counseling on the hate crime that he thrice rejected in plea offerings by the prosecutor.  To make matters worse, the judge repudiated the jury’s conviction on the hate crime count when he characterized the defendant as insensitive, not bigoted.  Even so, all is not lost.  The sentence and conviction do say something important.  They make clear that engaging in online harassment and shaming of individuals from traditionally subordinated groups has a cost. The sentence is not something to shrug at: the defendant has a criminal record for a hate crime with three years’ probation (even though he might have been sentenced to far more than that, ten years).  To young people interested in bright futures, this is worth avoiding.  Viewed at a distance, the case teaches us that juries will take similar cases seriously.  It does not and should not say that such cases are easy and uncomplicated.  They are hard and deservedly belong in the public eye.  That this case made it into court with a conviction makes a difference.



You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. Derek Bambauer says:

    Thanks, Danielle. What sentence do you think would be optimal, given the balancing you mention? The judge’s sentence strikes me as quite (far too) light; I appreciate your point about the signaling value of the outcome, but perhaps I am more pessimistic about it.

  2. Orin Kerr says:

    Danielle, how is the fear of a political backlash relevant to the proper sentence?

    Derek, I’m quite surprised that you think the sentence is too light: I would have thought, from your prior blogging, that you would have thought the sentence was draconian and unjustified. Can you say a bit more about why you think the sentence is too light?

  3. Ann Bartow says:

    Hi Danielle,
    At the risk of piling on, after I read your words here:
    I thought you would oppose any jail time at all for Ravi. And I am frankly amazed he got any jail time at all. He/his family purchased an excellent PR team, and when an article on the front page of the NYT yesterday referred to Ravi as a “folk hero” I knew they got their money’s worth.

  4. marc poirier says:

    I don’t know where Ann gets the “purchased a PR team” stuff. I was part of it, volunteering time to provide research on how anomalous the bias crime charges were in New Jersey law, nationwide, and in the jurisprudence of bias crimes. Somehow I became part of a fairly large group of gay folk speaking out against the prosecution, conviction, and harsh sentence. Others included Dan Savage, Richard Kim (executive editor of the Nation), E.J. Graff — a prominent lesbian feminist academic, Jim McGreevy the “gay American” ex-Governor of New Jersey, the editor in chief of hte statewide LGBT monthly publication,and several others. And let’s not forget John Farmer, former New Jersey Attorney General and currently the Dean of Rutgers-Newark Law School. None of this concern was purchased, or even orchestrated, so far as I know.

    The political effort on Ravi’s behalf benefitted from one other experienced gay activist, Bill Dobbs — also a volunteer — who believes hate crimes statutes are always harmful (I disagree with him); and by grass roots response within the New Jersey South Asian community, which began to organize only around the beginning of April 2012, after the guilty verdict. They had one benefit and one rally.

    There was an earlier PR effort pushing the other way, spearheaded by the largest New Jersey LGBT rights group, which from 2010 on has called for manslaughter charges — up until they met political and PR resistance this spring. Basically they want criminal liability when kids who are bullied commit suicide — which, if you look at the position suicide prevention experts have taken on this case, is a really bad idea. It encourages depressed people to kill themselves to get revenge on others. That LGBT advocacy group, by the way, raised a ton of money off of its antibullying position based in this case.

    If you’d like we can talk more about how Clementi’s suicide loomed over the entire mess. As I was quoted saying in the NY Times a day or two ago, LGBT groups have legitimately sought to get authorities at various levels to take bullying and cyberbullying much more seriously. They latched onto this case which, frankly, has pretty shaky facts, to make their very legitimate points. We should be talking about bullying, not the supposed unfairness of Ravi supporters’ belated response to misguided calls for harsh punishment.

  5. Ann Bartow says:

    Marc, there was a coordinated PR campaign, and I believe it was organized by his attorneys. I thought the NYT article calling Ravi a folk hero was a bit much and I watched it get edited in real time from about midnight through 4 am your time. Initially it described a consensus of “gay leaders” but eventually dialed this down to “prominent gay rights advocates.” I found this quite remarkable.

    I don’t know what you mean by shaky facts but if you think the jury got things wrong, well, that is what you think. I think the privacy invasion charges seemed well supported, but certainly did not sit through the trial.

  6. Ann Bartow says:

    I also think a person should have the right to have sex in his dorm room without having it recorded and potentially broadcast publicly. So does New Jersey, apparently. Some folk hero that Ravi is.

  7. Thanks for the discussion here. Derek, I’ve been puzzling over this one–the case is indeed complicated and the implications for sentencing complex. In the NYT piece that quoted Marc, Suzanne Goldberg observed that the defendant should be sentenced just as we would deal with other criminal offenders. The case is not exceptional in that way. Anyway, we should take up this conversation as we did on the Arizona cyber stalking law–always terrific sharing ideas with you. Orin, the sort of backlash I am referring to is resentment that follows what people believe to be an unfair and unduly harsh sentence. Such resentment has serious spillover effects, from prosecutors and legislators who turn against bias crimes/discrimination laws (certainly tenuous for LGBT community) to ordinary people who act on that resentment to the disadvantage of LGBT individuals. I blogged about that backlash at CoOp just after the verdict, which leads to Ann’s question. Ah, a thirty second interview on All Things Considered naturally cut much out so Suzanne Goldberg and I spent an hour talking to NPR’s Marty Moss-Coane for her Radio Times show and I blogged about it too. Thanks, all, and for Marc for joining in–appreciate the insights and concerns expressed.

  8. I also meant to link to my brilliant friend Sonja Starr’s work, Sentence Reduction as a Remedy for Prosecutorial Misconduct, 97 Georgetown Law Journal 1542 (2009) on the significance of unfair sentences.

  9. Ann Bartow says:

    I listened to that interview. Marty Moss-Coane kept asking “whether the punishment fit the crime” even though Suzanne pointed out like three times that Ravi hadn’t been sentenced yet (when the interview was recorded.) The reporting on this case has been really appalling.

  10. marc poirier says:

    I have enormous respect for Suzanne Goldberg, but her analogy in the Times re criminal sentencing was off. She compared Ravi to someone who texts while driving, has an accident, and kills someone, and suggested the sentence recommendations facing Ravi were similar to the penalty for that, and therefore were appropriate. In fact the much closer analogy is someone who texts awful messages to someone (throw in some kind of invasion of privacy if you will) and a day later that person is so upset that they have an accident while driving and kill someone or themself. I don’t think we’d prosecute the texter with a crime that had anything to do with the car accident. They didn’t cause it.

    Suzanne’s analogy reveals one of the problematic aspects of the case. The whole thing was viewed for quite some time through the lens of Clementi’s suicide and of early media misreports as to what happened. Suzanne’s choice of a comparison involving causing someone’s death reflects (inadvertently, I’m sure) the rhetoric that has been surrouding this case since the media spotted it at the end of September 2010. Many folks (mostly laypersons but some lawyers as well) wanted Ravi charged with manslaughter. Garden State Equality started a facebook page that got 18000 signatures calling for a manslaughter charge. They created much of the political pressure that may have led to what I believe was overcharging. Though the same presssure got a good strong bullying law through the state legislature.

    As to the shaky facts quote, I said it. Ann is right, there is a clear invasion of privacy under New Jersey law. But that’s not what I said was shaky. I’m not sure how much of my comment the Times got down, though I thought enough to make it clear. My problem is the use of invasion of privacy, and of this particular invasion as a predicate for bias intimidation, to make points about bullying.

    LGBT advocates have long sought in various ways to call attention to bullying, how deadly it can be, and how society must deal with it better. They identified this case, and the hate crimes component in particular, to do so. I’m truly dubious that criminal law ought to have much to do with bullying. While there’s come parallel btween bullying and bis intimidation, I also think it a seriosu mistake to lift the law of hate crimes and use it to address ublying. There are much more productive responses, as folks as different as Dan Savage and Jim McGreevy and Andrew Sullican all said in different ways. Excessively punishing Ravi does very little, actually, to address bullying and its effects. It’s actually distracting. But easy. That’s part of what I meant by shaky facts.

    I’m convinced that this particular crime is anomalous as a predicate for a bias crime conviction. Most state bias crime allwo a wide swath of cirmianl laws to serve as predicates, and prosecutors have typicallys tuck to crimes of vioelcne or threat of violence. I can’t find anything analgosous reported in New Jersey or any other state. The prosecutor broke new ground here. That may be appropriate; Lambda Legal is quietly cheering on the prosecution because it opens up nonviolent crimes as the basis for hate crime prosecutions. I’m not at all convinced that the sentencing guidelines for violent crimes that are also bias crimes ought to apply here. I”d strongly prefer the legislature to address how the notion of bias crime shoudl be expanded to punsihment for nonvioelnt bias crimes, and I dont’ bleieve they have. And while, the jury found Ravi guilty of purpose to intimidate, I’m not sure I would have. I see teenage trash talk, not “kill the faggot”. That’s also what I mean by shaky facts.

  11. marc poirier says:

    A separate response on the canard about a coordinated, highly paid PR campaign. Nobody paid anybody for PR; and I saw no evidence of any coordination. Bill Dobbs undoubtedly reached out to media on his own — he’s a media-oriented gay activist with time on his hands and he does that on a lot of issues. He would have done that regardless of any contact with anyone else.

    What happened is that Bill and I and a couple of others separately raised questions about the case in 2010 and 2011 in press and broadcast media, and when the media finally got interested in reporting the case’s complexities (which I attribute to Ian Parker’s lengthy and subtle New Yorker article) they Googled and found us. Similarly, some representatives of the South Asian community in central New Jersey reached out to us in April 2012, and then connected us to Ravi’s attorneys.

    I’m not impressed with the media overall — you appear somewhere as a somewhat competent source once or twice and all of a sudden the networks and BBC are asking if they can interview you. As for what the Times or any other media source manages to say about this complex case, with some exceptions I’m also not impressed. A fair number of the reporters are struggling just to understand it, and some are looking for a catchy line (Ravi as folk hero) even if it’s not especially a propos.

    The reason I’m spending time laying this out is that the “expensive PR campaign” notion is making the rounds in the blogosphere. It’s a way of dismissing out of hand the various concerns that a wide variety of thoughtful commentators see with the case. I’d much prefer to engage the issues.

    Moroever — though Ann and other folks contributing to this blog surely aren’t aware of it — there’s a lot of resentment of the Indian community in central New Jersey, where Ravi lives. Both class and race are implicated. The Indian community is viewed as displacing a poorer white group that used to live where they do now. Whatever the merits of the sentence or the case, saying that Ravi was able to buy justice inevitably has some bad overtones.